Ascent of Pico de Orizaba on 1993-12-10

Climber: David Olson

Others in Party:Tom Labuszewski partway going up. Many going down.
Date:Friday, December 10, 1993
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Pico de Orizaba
    Elevation:18491 ft / 5636 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tlachichuca: Eventually we put our gear in a trailer and 10 of us rode in a Dodge Powerwagon up to Piedra Grande. At one turn the Mexicans up front took off their hats to a religious shrine. We got up about 8:00 pm, after dark, a two hour ride. Tom and I laid our things out on the top shelf, in back, in the big hut.
Friday Dec 10th 1993. Tom announced at 4:00 am that he wasn't getting any sleep and we should start our climb. I had looked the previous night at a map-board just outside the hut, which showed three routes. The middle route, going to the left of the face but not over the ridge, was rated easiest. The board showed crevasses between the middle and the right(technico) route. During the first part of our hike Tom said later that he was going fast-strong and I was going slow. He slowed down to match my
pace. Oddly, I made the top and he didn't.
We got up to the flat spot/snow line about dawn. We headed leftward. High on the mountain we became separated left-to-right by a hundred feet. Tom was climbing slowly on all fours. I was quite fatigued, as fatigued as I have ever been. I took a rest at a flat spot at the edge of a crevasse. The crevasse was 2 ft. wide at the surface, 4 ft. wide further down, 15 to 20 feet deep. When I got up to go my sunglass case fell out of my pack and into the crevasse - gone. I went to the left to cross the crevasse, then back and up. Feeling more fatigued I crossed one more crevasse and then got to the rim. I laid down to rest, who knows how long I napped. When I looked up Tom was laying about 10 ft below the rim. He looked wasted and declared he was wasted and could not go up to the summit. I decided to try. I went around the first rock step and then started to climb back to the rim. I met several Mexicans coming down, roped. I understood them to warn me against going up this slope, to the top. I thought it
was straight-forward. From there it was easy to the top. I got there at 12:35 pm, 35 minutes after leaving Tom. I stayed up for 10 minutes, taking photos, picking up a few small pebbles as mementos.
There were a group of Mexicans doing something near the summit. I asked them about the HP for the estado de Veracruz. They didn't seem interested further than the HP of the Republic of Mexico. I asked them to take a photo of me at the summit marker. Thank you. I had heard a story that each year a climbing party climbs the Pico from the Valle de Orizaba, puts out Christmas decorations and hooks them up to a car battery they have brought up. Then they go down to Piedra Grande.
When I headed down I did not care for the steep slope going around the rock step, and I chose to follow a beaten path closer to the right-hand (technico) route. It did not look bad at all. When I got down aways I glissaded across two switchbacks good. Further down I decided to glissade across two more. There were a few people further below me on the slope/in the valley formed with the Sarcofago. The intention is the last firm memory I have of the day. I have a memory of the glissade not being stoppable, getting below these other people, heading toward the right and being frightened of running into rocks. I took this memory to be a hypothetical-how-the-glissade-could-go-wrong thought. I am told I ended up on a flat snow slope well to the right of the normal route. I have memories - as though I was asleep and dreaming - of being in a shallow rock gully on a mountain face, another gully just 10 feet or so to the left, my gear within reach, but when I stand up to go down, twice, I fall over, unable to stand. Gradually I regain some wakefulness. I am being hauled down the mountain. I cannot see because of how I am bundled, or move. They give me sips of water/juice occasionally. It is after midnight and they put off my questions. Eventually (3:00 am, I am told) they arrive at a tent and I am put into one. The
owner says we are three people on two mattress pads. He and Tom sleep head in, I believe that I start head out but switch myself during the night. Unlikely due to injuries. My memories after the accident have a bizarre convoluted quality, definite only that I am too wobbly to stand.
Sat. 11 Dec 1993. I heard early in the morning that another fellow had been injured on the mountain. He was said to have a multiple compound fracture of his leg. Tom and the tent's owner were out early. A little later I was asked to come out and stand up. I did. I was shaky. I was hurting and unsteady in my right knee and left ankle. I was asked to try walking down and a group of Mexicans (part A.A.M.U.A.P., Asociacion de Alta Montaña de Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, a student mountaineering group that has
also specialized in volunteer mountain rescue. They had come to climb the Pico.) offered to help support me under the shoulders. I found that I was at the high camp, just below snowline and a little east of the top of the gully/trail. After the first leg, to the top of the trail, the Mexicans got out ski poles and switched to a before-ski-poles-after arrangement. Progress was slow. We stopped at least a dozen times so I could sit-down and rest. Each time a Mexican offered me a sip of gatorade. The other crew, carrying the fellow with the leg fracture, caught up to us just below the upper aqueduct. We did get to Piedra Grande a little before them. Tom said later that
the descent took five hours. Tom went into the hut to pack our gear. I rested on the shady side of a rock nearby. Other climbers socialized nearby. Some said to me that I should see myself and that they would send us photos. I happened to find my camera, still intact (!) and asked someone to take two photos, one of me and one looking up trail at the mountain.
Interruption: From a conversation with 'rescuer' Reese Clemens at 7:00 am 11 Jan 1994: He said that I had slid, and rolled, substantially to the right, and had come to a stop on relatively flat snow-field. That after they had been unable to move me. Tom went down to Piedra Grande to get help while Jeff Girard of their group went to their high camp to get material. They were concerned, as the hour advanced, that I would suffer hypothermia. When Jeff Girard did not return they sent another person down and
found Jeff Girard fallen among the rocks with a multiple compound leg fracture. In the end they moved their high camp uphill a ways to accommodate the wounded. Tom was so worn out by his efforts that he did not get above the high camp after returning from Piedra Grande. He came down with his own case of hypothermia and his behavior caused the crew concern. Tom said it was a good thing I could stand the next morning. Jeff Girard spent five days in the hospital in Puebla, five days in the hospital here in the US and went through surgery to fix up his fracture. The Mexicans who helped rescue me/us live in Puebla and visited him in the hospital. Neither the high camp team, nor Tom were able to recompense these Mexicans for their trouble. End of interruption.
After a short period of sitting at Piedra Grande two trucks showed up. Jeff Girard was put in the other one, while I walked to and took the left front seat of the Dodge Power-wagon. The jefe of the trucks had wanted it, it turned out, but he was a good sport, rode outside the 'door' on the driver's side to the passenger car parking place and then he took a seat in the back of the power-wagon. It took an hour to get down to Tlachichuca. At Señor Reyes' I changed into new pants. The old pants and long underwear were badly ripped in the knees. Then Tom arranged a taxi ride to the 'San Jose' hospital in Puebla which had been recommended to him. I got a washup and X-rays and went to bed.
Sunday Dec 12 1993 and Monday Dec 13 1993. These were much the same to me. I laid in bed with an IV in my arm, resting and recovering. The hospital staff brought me a liquid diet, juice, gelatin, milk/orchata with spice. Once a day they brought boiled squash slices and a turkey leg as well. Either Saturday night or Sunday (12) I was examined by doctor(s) Cruz and Campos. Dr. Campos wrote out instructions to take Voltaren pills and Furan eyedrops. One of them ordered Tetanus shots because I hadn't
had one in one/two years (I thought it was 1990). Tom got a tour of Puebla from one of the doctors. Meantime Tom was getting anxious about money. I gave him my mastercard and PIN, but it didn't work for him. I do not know why. It worked here in the US for me afterwards. Monday he met Guillermo Arriaga Orts and his mother, from whom he borrowed 1800 Nuevo Pesos. He brought Guillermo around to see me, and it relieved the language problem for Tom quite a bit. Tom managed to change our airplane tickets from Monday to Tuesday.
Tuesday Dec 14 1993. Tom got me out of the hospital. I sat out front, and saw the Hospital's whole name, something San Jose, while he called a taxi inside. In due course the taxi took us to the CAPU bus terminal. We bought bus tickets direct to Cd. Mexico airport at the Estrella Roja counter inside and got on the bus in good order. This was a higher class bus and they showed an American made TV movie about a capitol crime in Arizona enroute. There was nothing to remark until about 10 miles from
the airport. Then the bus slowed, for what looked like highway construction, then halted for three hours. We heard on the radio about carretera Puebla Mexico, and someone told us that we were stopped for a teacher organized student protest over a lack of school supplies, etc. By the time we got going again our scheduled flight to Denver was gone. When we got to the airport we found our way to the Continental counter, they were able to change our tickets for a fee of $76.87 to a flight leaving
for Denver shortly and we were on our way. Once in Houston Tom arranged a wheelchair assist for me, then he went ahead through customs so he could phone ahead for our ride pickup. I understood that we would be waiting ~two hours for our plane, but we get up to the gate and there is a plane departing for Denver/Colorado Springs. We get on. Tom puts me in his seat in First Class and he is prepared to take my seat in coach,
but someone volunteers to go back instead. Tom again arranges a wheelchair in Denver and we go down to baggage. Our baggage - our carousel - is nowhere to be seen. Tom goes off to investigate. He finds that we got on the wrong flight and our bags, on the right flight, won't arrive for ~ 2 hours. So we wait for them. After we get our bags we find our ride pickup. Tom has his roommate take me to St. Joseph Hospital, where
they check me in. I get to bed about 1:00 am.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4580 ft / 1395 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4580 ft / 1395 m
    Grade/Class:class 2
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Hut Camp
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4580 ft / 1395 m
    Route:'standard' route, middle easiest route according t
    Start Trailhead:Piedras Grande Hut  13911 ft / 4240 m
    Time:8 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4580 ft / 1395 m
    Route:The 'right' route, according to the board..., foll
    End Trailhead:same as start point  13911 ft / 4240 m

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